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UCLA women’s volleyball triumphs over Trojans for first time in two years

The Bruins embrace their teammates after clinching a five-set thriller against crosstown foes, USC, in their last regular season game of the 2023 season. UCLA women’s volleyball will now await Sunday for a potential NCAA tournament bid. (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Women's Volleyball

Oregon State2
No. 24 USC2

By Nicole Augusta

Nov. 25, 2023 3:01 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 26 at 8:43 p.m.

An eerie sense of familiarity for the Bruin pack emerged at the 14-13 mark in the fifth set.

Two months ago, the Trojans sat at that very score before winning the contest a few points later.

Luckily for the Bruins, they have a penchant for rewriting history – and they didn’t need overtime allowance to do so.

UCLA women’s volleyball (18-12, 10-10 Pac-12) defeated Oregon State (11-18, 6-13) on Wednesday and No. 24 USC (18-12, 12-8) on Friday behind back-to-back five-set victories – both in enemy territory. In a quest for redemption, UCLA handed its crosstown rivals a loss in nearly the same fashion they were dealt one earlier this season.

Friday night’s victory over the Trojans – the Bruins’ first in over two years – wasn’t without a thunderous sea of cardinal and gold. The volume in Galen Center only increased alongside UCLA’s point total. Fans of the hosts weren’t defecting – the Bruins were just creating more reasons for the Trojan faithful to jeer at its crosstown foe.

After dropping set one, the visitors crashed out of the Downtown Los Angeles gates to clinch the next two.

But amid 25-21 victories in the second and third frames, a struggle at the service line became an early trend for the Bruins. They finished the contest with 14 service errors, marking their highest total since the Trojans came to Westwood in September.

“We missed about six serves in that first set,” said coach Alfee Reft. “I like that we were being aggressive, but we were certainly giving too many points away, I think. In a match this tight, we just can’t make errors from the end line.”

Setter Mia Tuaniga, who the Bruins didn’t see last time around, tallied three of USC’s aces alone thanks to a dominating topspin serve. Regardless of the setting maestro’s efficiency on the line, UCLA’s scouts assured she would also commit four service errors on the night.

In a departure from their initial woes, the Bruins’ pivotal comeback lead in the fifth set also derived from the service line – this time in the form of three consecutive aces from Audrey Pak. The senior setter ultimately served her way to a career-high four aces.

“Both teams brought a lot of heat on the service line,” said senior outside/opposite hitter Iman Ndiaye. “That is how you win games. Especially in the end, I think, was super fun for us – Audrey’s always great.”

Chants of “USC” in time with the team’s hits composed the rhythm of the graduating players’ swan song in Galen Center. But the senior night recognition was only one of outside hitter Skylar Fields’ recent acknowledgements – bookending a streak of three Pac-12 weekly honors, the top position in conference kills and the national runner-up spot in kills per set.

When the stands rang with the sound of Fields’ kills – each of the 21 – Ndiaye responded to the call with unanswered kills of her own. Matching her counterpart’s 21, Ndiaye led all Bruins offensively after notching a career-high 23 just two days prior in Corvallis.

“I just know the feeling of getting roofed, and I don’t like it,” Ndiaye said. “Nothing that they can stuff me on – edges of the block, that’s my mentality when I go to hit against a big block.”

UCLA’s side of the court provided the biggest blocks of the night, led by graduate student middle blocker Desiree Becker’s career-high nine. Redshirt senior middle blocker Anna Dodson, playing in her first game back since Nov. 17, assumed her role beside Becker to complete the No. 1 Pac-12 blocking duo for 14 blocks and 19 kills on the game.

Before the Bruins had a chance to close out points, junior Peyton Dueck covered the court to extend rallies against a Trojan offense. The defensive specialist/libero’s 18 digs were a testament to the team’s reactive plays and quick communication Friday, which proved necessary against USC’s big hitters, Pak said.

“We’ve upgraded a lot, volleyball-wise, and just communication-wise,” Pak said. “One of us is just struggling mentally, we’re really vulnerable with that, and then we’re able to have each other’s backs. … I think that really helped us tonight – just to stay together.”

After the start of the fourth frame teetered in favor of the Bruins, points toppled onto the Trojans’ side of the scoreboard to push a fifth set – ruining hopes for a 3-1 UCLA victory.

Reft said the majority of the team’s growth in his first year of coaching was exemplified by perseverance under pressure – especially as the first season in over a decade where both rivalry matches together amassed ten total sets.

“We’re down 8-11 in the fifth set, and I look at our players, and they’re just like, ‘We got this,’ you know, like, ‘We’ve been here before,’” Reft said. “All they kept saying in the huddle was, ‘Believe, believe, we got to believe’ – and they sure did.”

The Bruins will find out Sunday if this belief will be enough to extend their lifespan with an at-large bid to this year’s NCAA tournament.

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Nicole Augusta
Augusta is a 2023-2024 Slot editor and Sports senior staff member on the softball beat. She was previously a Copy and Sports contributor on the women's volleyball beat. She is also a third-year human biology and society student.
Augusta is a 2023-2024 Slot editor and Sports senior staff member on the softball beat. She was previously a Copy and Sports contributor on the women's volleyball beat. She is also a third-year human biology and society student.
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